** (out of four)
When and if 2013 arrives, Hollywood will sure have egg on its face. All these apocalyptic forecasters and no apocalypse. Not that weather reports usually pan out.
In “Seeking a Friend For the End of the World,” the despair of “Melancholia” and “Take Shelter” and “The Road” get a spin toward romantic comedy in the hands of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” writer Lorene Scafaria, making her directorial debut. Her vision of Armageddon reflects what we all probably envision, not much more. And without the terrified, potentially liberated chaos that would likely ensue.
As Dodge (Steve Carell) befriends Penny (Keira Knightley) with only a couple weeks until an asteroid closes the book on the planet, “Seeking” literally drives away from earlier, more staggering scenes. At first, Scafaria depicts a party in which ordinary folks shoot heroin and get kids drunk because hey, why not, and Dodge, who’s still mindlessly going to work as a life insurance salesman, arrives at the office just in time for a person who jumped from the building to land on his car.
Yet this comedy suggests that many people—be it the obsessive exerciser, the diligent police officer or the cleaning woman who still comes to Dodge’s house weekly—would remain in their routines without commenting on why habit might serve as comfort against the unknown. “Seeking” mostly revolves around the need to spend final moments with loved ones, something nobody lucky enough to have those special people would disagree with. That’s a problem when the movie’s central relationship suffers from two people who never quite fit.
“I won’t steal anything if you don’t rape me,” Penny tells Dodge the night they meet, as he comforts her in his apartment while she cries over a breakup. In this scene and others, this uptight, 40-something American guy and the more opinionated British girl in her late 20s who suffers from “hypersomnia” get along like folks who could discover an unexpected friendship.
Without giving too much away, suffice to say that mistaking friendship for true love represents an unfortunate, ultimately empty miscalculation, at the end of the world or early enough to choose more wisely.
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